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The Boat Race

The Boat Race: everything you need to know

Only in it for the riverside drinks? Sound like a rowing pro with our guide to the Boat Race 2020

Written by
Alexandra Sims
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The annual Boat Race is back on Sunday March 29 2020. Get yourself Thames-side to see academic titans Oxford and Cambridge battle it out once again in an oar-some rowing race on the river. But if – like the majority of the 300,000 people expected to line the banks this year – you’re actually there for the all-day booze fest, here’s our guide to everything you need to know about the Boat Race 2020, so you can at least sound like rowing pro whilst sipping on your Sauvignon.

Not feeling the rowing? Head to the Goat Race instead. 

Everything you need to know about the Boat Race

Time it right

Time it right

Events on the riverbank kick off at 12pm at Bishop’s Park, Fulham where there will be bars, street food stands and a big screen to watch the BBC live coverage of the race, and the Adnams Fan Park in Furnivall Gardens, Hammersmith. At 1.56pm the traditional pre-race coin tosses begin, but it’s not until 3.44pm that the riparian riot gets into full swing when the starting gun marks the beginning of The Women’s Boat Race. The Men’s Boat Race takes place an hour later at 4.44pm. 

 

Free and easy

Free and easy

Given its redbrick university connections, you’d be forgiven for associating the Boat Race with more hoity-toity events in the sporting world, but unlike the polo and the horse races anyone can rock up for free along the four-and-a-quarter mile route from Putney to Mortlake free.

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Team sport
Arfa / Griffiths Photographers

Team sport

Stoking a student rivalry that goes back centuries, the race is an annual contest between the rowing crews from Oxford and Cambridge universities. The teams compete in eight-oared rowing boats, each steered by a cox who sits in the stern (that’s the back of the boat). The four crews are known as the Blue Boats after the award their universities give them for competing in the race.

Ladies to the front

Ladies to the front

Despite the competition’s 189-year history, it was only in 2015 that the Women’s Boat Race first took place on the same course, on the same day as the men’s (the women’s race previously took place in Henley). Founded in 1927, it wasn’t until the ‘60s that the race became an annual fixture and, even by then, the participating female rowers faced abuse and criticism from their male counterparts.

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What to bring

What to bring

As with all outdoor British sports don’t forget to pack your brolly if rain’s on the cards and fill up your rucksack with plenty of cans and sausage rolls to get into the all-day boozing spirit.

The towpath along Putney Embankment is a great viewing location because there’s a long, clear view of the race in both directions. For other rip-rowing views stake out a coveted spot at Hammersmith Bridge, Chiswick Pier and Dukes Meadow – where you’ll see the final stages of the race. If you don’t fancy standing out in the cold, check our guide to the best pubs along the route.

 

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Not all plain sailing

Not all plain sailing

In 2012, the umpire stopped the men’s race after a rogue swimmer appeared in the race path. The race was restarted with the crews level, however, shortly after the restart, Oxford broke an oar and Cambridge went on to take the win.

Check out these Cox

Check out these Cox

As with lots of British events, the race is accompanied by plenty of weird traditions and rituals. Before the race, the rowing clubs’ presidents toss a coin (an 1829 gold sovereign, no less) for the right to pick which side of the river they row on. After the winning crew has been presented with the trophy, their cox is dunked in the Thames.

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Hugh Laurie
Tom Shaw

Hugh Laurie

National treasure Hugh Laurie has even taken up an oar, rowing in the Cambridge Blue Boat in 1980. He was keeping it in the family: his father Ran Laurie stroked Cambridge to victory between 1934-36 and won a gold medal at the 1948 London Olympics. 

What’s it all about?
© Richard Heathcote

What’s it all about?

You’re probably wondering how all this started in the first place. Well, the race came about after two former Harrow school chums Charles Wordsworth (at Oxford) and Charles Merivale (at Cambridge) went rowing on the Cam, and the two fellows decided to set up a challenge. Thanks for the good times Charlies.

Make the most of the boat race

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